For the past several decades debate has raged in our culture over the question of whether the United States is, or ever has been, a "Christian nation." Our current President recently spoke abroad regarding this issue, assuring muslim nations in particular that we are most assuredly not, while conservative political groups accuse him and others who share his point of view with "historical revisionism."
Christian historian David Barton refers to the multiple references to God by our nations founding fathers, their dependence on divine providence, and frequent appeals to heaven's blessing as grounds for believing that our genesis as a nation was a distinctly Christian one.
When confronted with the question "Is the US a Christian nation?" the intellectually honest believer must respond with "yes and no." On the one hand, when the plethora of theological vantagepoints held by our founding fathers is closely examined, one comes to the conclusion that if any ever intended a state religion it would not be Christianity, but instead a strange mix of Freemasonry and moralistic deism. While many who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence were genuine followers of Christ, Thomas Jefferson, who essentially authored the document, offered his daily prayers to a god who was conspicuously absent from the everyday affairs of men, seemed incapable of performing the miracles described in Scripture, and certainly bore no resemblace to the God of the Bible. As a follower of Jesus, the peculiar beliefs of some of our founding fathers make me thankful they did not establish a state church.
On the other hand, the nation's history and all the privilege that has come from it bear the unique fingerprints of a Biblical understanding of reality, knowlege and ethics. Though the first colonists sought total religious freedom, they saw Christianity as the one faith which could guarantee such freedom. Anyone taking a simple tour of the Capitol rotunda can see this fact by merely looking at the artwork hung around the room. Of the four paitings hanging in these hallowed halls, three depict revival services and the last a baptism. Admittedly, the "under God" phrase in our pledge of allegiance and the "in God we trust" phrase on our coinage and in our halls of government may have been late 20th century additions to our culture. Still, on closer examination it appears that these move to install these phrases was a reaction to forces from the other extreme that at the time were seeking to totally erase the influence of the Christian faith on the country.
On that note the editors of the Kairos Journal warn: if it ever comes to that, we may lose the privilege that comes with our legacy.
Their pamphlet "Legatees of a Great Inheritance: How the Judeo-Christian Tradition Has Shaped the West," plainly lays out the influence of our religious heritage on the founding of western ideals that continue today. Conversely, the document also notes where secularist influence is now at the point of eroding these ideals. Such has already taken place in western Europe, and the editors warn that similar societal decay and erosion of freedoms could take place in the U.S. if all--Christian or non-Christian--fail to understand, appreciate, and preserve the rights and privileges we have inherited from this worldview.
One tangible example of this can be observed in our nation's public school systems. My oldest is a fourth-grader at one of those schools. This past December, the kids spent a day each looking at the history of Hannukkah and Kwanza, but not one word was said about the coming of Jesus Christ and the Christmas season. Certainly our children should be exposed to all traditions, and I'm happy that my son is more familiar with the traditions of others--especially in the highly diverse area in which we live. But why the conspicuous absence of anything Christian?
The editors of Kairos well point out that the very freedom we have to discuss the various traditions comes from our Christian heritage. But this isn't the only advantage to our heritage. Christian ideals such as the dignity of all human beings (which springs from our understanding of humans as uniquely created in the image and likeness of God Himself) and universal human rights was ultimately responsible for the elimination of gladitorial brutality, and the promotion of racial and gender equality. Slavery no longer legally exists in the west because of Christian-conscience-driven Englishmen like William Wilberforce and a strong abolitionist movement among the northern evangelical Chrisians in America. God-willing, a day is coming where abortion won't exist either, because of these same ideals.
Our critical realist epistemology, conviction that all truth belongs to God, and belief in the value of general revelation led to the founding of public school systems and the advance of science in the modern world. Our pluralist convictions--our belief that forced conversion is in reality no conversion at all--led to ideals like freedom of conscience and religion. The arts, architecture, music and fiction have all been touched by the creativity spawned by a Biblical worldview. The Geneva Conventions are simply the practical, modern application of Augustine's Just War Theory. Believe what you want about torture. The fact is that if it weren't for Christian ideals, we wouldn't even be having that conversation.
Though the editors commend the Christian faith to all, the objective of this journal is not to convert. Rather, it is to issue a call to reconsider the way our society seems to be jettisonning our Christian heritage. "Western Civilizzation," they contend, "is indebted to the Judeo-Christian tradition for its notions of human dignity and human rights, its innovation in science and medicine, its habits of humanitarian charity and universal education, and its rich contribution to the arts. Though once commonplace, this claim has become increasingly controversial, challenged by the revisionists of late modernity as well as those who suffer from historical amnesia."
This is not to say that everyone in our society has to accept Chrisianity as truth. Our own faith teaches us that this won't happen. It is to say that the Christian tradition should be reinstated to its rightful place in our history. As politically incorrect as it may be to state the obvious, Hindus did not give us a belief in universal human rights, nor did the muslim world give us freedom of speech or religion. (Try planting a Christian church in the middle-east if you doubt this.)
"Legatees of a Great Inheritance" is a valuable and historically accurate compendium of the Christian influence on the west, and the editors of Kairos have given us a crucial, "Cliffs Notes" approach to a wider, deeper history, the center of which is the cross of Christ Himself. Read it, and in doing so, reacquaint yourself with the ideals that have made western society great. More importantly, acquaint yourself with the One who granted these ideals, lived them perfectly, and died to give us life abundant, in the here, and the hereafter.
Visit the Kairos Journal online here.